Presbyterian Missions–Personal Observations (2nd of 6). Mission becomes “Church-to-Church Relationships”

The psychologist I was seeing, Dr. Ed Setchko, was right when he said, “You don’t only want to be a missionary; you also want to challenge the structures of the Presbyterian church to make a better future for applicants who want to go as missionaries.” I wanted to be a missionary, but I felt the zeal of the Lord to change the policy of the Presbyterian mission department. Here is a brief explanation of the mission policy I wished to challenge.

Presbyterian Church mission policy since the 1960s. In the 1960s the Presbyterian Church stopped using the designation “missionaries.” A new name, “fraternal workers,” was conferred on the entire overseas force. This change came as a surprise to the missionaries; they had no say in the matter. “Fraternal workers” conveyed the idea that missionaries should no longer take initiative; rather, they should submit to overseas national churches where they served. By submitting to a national church in each country, the Presbyterian Church headquarters stated that a new era of respect had begun; the American missionaries, now fraternal workers, would take no initiative on their own. Fraternal workers would serve overseas national churches. The new policy had two effects:

1. The number of Americans who wanted to become Presbyterian missionaries in the Middle East declined, which is to say, they applied to other mission agencies. The number of Presbyterian missionaries fell to nearly zero.

2. The reader needs to know that the membership in each national church in the Middle East—in, say, Egypt, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iraq and Iran—is made of Christians who were never Muslim. Church membership is maintained by births, not conversions. Church leaders in the Middle East, aware of the threat of repercussion, decided that “now is not the time” to begin an outreach to Muslims. Missionaries (fraternal workers) in Muslim countries were forbidden by the national churches to stir up trouble among Muslims. This was the end of any initiative among Muslim unreached peoples that Presbyterian missionaries may have hoped to take. If the change Dr. Ralph Winter and Cody Watson and I hoped to make could be made, it would be made at the US Center for World Mission in Pasadena.

Meeting new friends: “All for one and one for all.” Jan and I and our three children moved to the US Center for World Mission in Pasadena in 1986. There we met lifelong friends who were “all for one and one for all.” The first friend I met was Cody Watson.

Bob Blincoe, Bob Sjogren, Don Richardson, Cody Watson in 1987

Cody was a Presbyterian pastor in South Carolina when he accepted Dr. Winter’s invitation to move to the US Center for World Mission to direct the Presbyterian Center for Mission Studies (PCMS). The mission of the PCMS: “Analyzing the needs and opportunities for Christian mission” and “suggesting additional methods and structures for mission.” In this important way, the PCMS promoted the formation of small Presbyterian mission structures that would report to the New York Presbyterian headquarters but act independently of the paralyzing “fraternal worker” policy. This was the crucial change that mattered most, The PCMS promoted “additional methods and structures” that would set in motion new mission initiatives among non-Christian peoples. We took inspiration from a document called “The Great Ends of the Church” that the Presbyterian General Assembly had published every year for a hundred years. The first Great End of the Church: “The proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of all humankind.” Neither Cody Watson nor I were satisfied “the proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of all humankind” had been whittled down to “church-to-church” relationships with national churches overseas.

 Cody began teaching the Perspectives course material. He began writing and speaking on the theme of mission to unreached peoples. Cody made friends with Harold Kurtz, director of the Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship, and Mort Taylor at the Presbyterian mission headquarters in New York City (the headquarters would move to Louisville, KY in 1989).

I met William K. in 1987 when I visited his church in Texas. William did not own a car, so he picked me up at the airport in a car from the Rent-a-Wreck Car Rental agency. William and I hit it off. A few months later William came to see me in Pasadena. “We should join up!” William said, and, in this way, William found me, and I found my right-hand man in all the amazing things that were about to happen to us. When William said, “We should join up,” he meant we should make common cause in our effort to actually go as missionaries to the Middle East, and to revitalize the Presbyterian Church mission. Even today I would be back-to-back with William K. if we were the last two good guys on earth.

Presbyterian Missions–Blincoe’s Personal Observations. This is my 2th blog post in a series of 6.

1. In 1986 I applied to be a Presbyterian Missionary. I Received No Reply.

2. Meeting New Friends Who Were “All For One and One For All”

3. Which is it, “Go?” or “No Go?”

4. An “Open Sesame” Event of Considerable Interest Occurs in Iraq

5. An Iraqi Priest Writes to Louisville on my Behalf.

6. Forty Years On, What “Lighthouse and Flint” Means to Me.